Do you hear that rumble? Feel that shaking? That is the groundswell of a group that will not take any more. That is the voice of women, and the men who are with them, saying this has got to stop. What do we want? Freedom? When do we want it? A long time ago.
Why is this still happening? Why can women choose to marry, but have no say if they want to get a divorce? Are the rabbanim waiting until the other shoe drops, until women say forget prenups and postnups, maybe I will be satisfied to live with a man and not be chained by the ancient laws of kiddushin? God knows, when we prepare for marriage, we don’t consider that one day, the person I love may make my life a living hell. We, Jewish women, if you haven’t noticed, don’t actually say anything at the wedding ceremony. We just accept the ring, and go quietly off to be good little Jewish women, here to be seen and not heard.
If you haven’t noticed, that time is over. Women are speaking up, are learning and becoming officially the fonts of knowledge they always have been. We don’t all want the title of rabbi. But we do want the respect that we have earned, those who (not me) have gone on to learn more than some men. We want to be heard, and you know what, we also want to be seen. Along with disgusting local happenings, I had the misfortune to see a public billboard defaced-and I mean defaced; ironically, whichever “righteous” person covered the woman’s face in black paint did not bother to spray paint her bare shoulders. This is another huge issue that goes hand in hand with silencing our voices; some also don’t want our faces seen at all.
Others have been outraged and outspoken on our local issue in the past few weeks but I have kept quiet until now. Due to having gotten over-involved myself at one point, to the great detriment of my family, I have been following the coverage but (mostly) not commenting. But I can’t take any more. My friend has not been suffering long in the public eye, but has gone through enough. If she wants a divorce, why can’t the rabbis figure out how to get her one? In my mind, all of these situations are simple enough, and yes, I am sure I am ignorant, but as I see it: when they got married, she loved him. She did not expect or want to be a divorced woman, but she can no longer live with this person—he is not the man she married. Why does this not justify false pretenses? Why can’t a marriage simply be annulled on this basis? This person is holding up her life for his own ideas—he wants to stay married, so she has no choice? How is this right? How have the rabbis, in their great wisdom, not been able to solve this problem for thousands of years?
It is not enough to say ok, now all couples should start getting pre or post nuptuials. What does this do for her, or for thousands of other women in her place? Sadly, it is not the first time I have personally known an Agunah. A friend whom I met in college’s mother is STILL an agunah!
It is not mine to say whether, as the man’s parents, I would help my child or push him in the right direction; yet I fervently hope that I would be strong enough to say to my child [and yes, your children are still, at least in part, your responsibility even as adults], you must do the right thing and let her go.
There are, I personally know, cases where the man did the right thing and it was the woman who dragged out the civil divorce for years; I am not saying that men are not also vulnerable and yes, they can also be hurt. Yet a civil divorce may be granted, overriding either party if need be. This is not the case in Jewish law. Heter Meah Rabbanim for men; endless suffering for women.
Rabbis, this is not one person, this is not one case. It is incumbent upon you to hear the cry of your people, women and men, and find a better solution.
Our town, our country, our Jewish women worldwide, along with the wonderful men who are supporting this, will be silent no longer.